Massive protests in Kashmir after troops kill youth

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Srinagar, Nov 17 (UNI) A 22-year-old youth was allegedly shot dead by soldiers in the Kulgam district of south Kashmir early today, triggering massive and violent protests in the area in which five policemen were critically wounded.

However, defence spokesman Lt Col A K Mathur said Reyaz Ahmed Sofi, a baker, was killed in the crossfire between militants and troops of 9 Rashtriya Rifles (RR) near Yarikhah in Kulgam district early this morning.

Locals contradicted his statement, saying soldiers fired upon Sofi around dawn today, killing him on the spot.

They alleged that troops gathered some village youth, including Sofi, who was carrying bread from his family-owned bakery, and took them along for ''unknown reasons''.

''When they (soldiers and the youth) had hardly crossed some distance, some gunshots were heard following which the troops fled from the spot. They had fired on Sofi who was bleeding profusely and later died on the spot,'' the locals claimed.

However, officials said troops of 9 RR were conducting a search operation in Damhal Hanjipora area this morning when they noticed suspicious movement.

When challenged, the officials claimed that militants opened a heavy volume of fire on the troops, leading to a gunfight as a result of which one person was caught and killed in the crossfire.

The locals disputed the claim, saying there was no cross firing and troops might have mistaken Sofi for a militant and killed him.

The killing evoked massive and violent protests in the area.

Hundreds of angry villagers gathered on the roads, chanting anti-government and anti-Army slogans and refused to bury the body.

They demanded that the ''guilty'' soldiers be severely punished.

At least five policemen were wounded as angry protesters hurled stones and bottles at a local police station. Police later used baton and fired teargas shells to scatter the demonstrators.

Senior police and civil officials rushed to the spot to access the situation and pacify the protestors, assuring them that strict action would be taken against the errant soldiers, if found guilty.

UNI

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